The Comfort

KIRK [voice-over]: Captain’s Log, Stardate 4302.4.  Communications Officer Uhura has picked up a sub-space signal from a planet in the sparsely-populated Tulsar quadrant.  The Enterprise is investigating.

SULU:  We have visual contact, Captain.

KIRK: On screen, Mr. Sulu.

ELDER: Greetings, Federation friends.  We welcome you.

KIRK: We…  also greet you.  I am Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship —

ELDER: We know who you are, Captain.  I am Elder Bob.  We are glad your ship has come to visit our neighborhood.  You have come such a long way, Captain — we would like you and your crew to be our guests and share our comfort.

[KIRK glances at SPOCK.]

SPOCK: Sensors show no unusual energy readings, Captain.

KIRK [to viewscreen]: Thank you, Elder.  Our crew is… [KIRK looks around at the officers on the bridge]… very ready for some… rejuvenation.  We would be… pleased… to visit you.

ELDER:  Then beam your party down right away, Captain.  You have our coordinates.

KIRK [turning to Chekov]: Mr. Chekov, prepare the landing party and schedule rotating leaves on the planet for the rest of the crew.

CHEKOV:  Wes, Captain.

KIRK [to viewscreen]:  Elder, we appreciate and look forward to your hospitality.  We will be ready to transport within the hour.

ELDER: Wonderful, Captain.

KIRK [to himself]: Yes, I am.  [Turns to SULU]  Mr. Sulu, assemble the landing party and notify me when we are ready to beam down.   I will be in my quarters.  [KIRK strides to the lift and the doors open.]  Deck 5.  [KIRK steps inside and the doors close.]

McCOY [on bridge, glancing sideways at SPOCK]:  Here we go again.

[SPOCK raises left eyebrow but stares ahead and says nothing .]

_______________________________

CHEKOV [on the planet surface]: All tricorder readings normal, Captain.

KIRK: Thank you, Mr. Chekov.  Now, let’s find our host.

ELDER [appearing from around a corner]: No need to look far, Captain Kirk.  We are ready to welcome you.  Shall we sing?  [ELDER motions to a young man with a lute.]

KIRK: Sing?

ELDER: We sing to celebrate our fortune.  [ELDER begins to sing along with the lute.] “Praise, praise, praise our comfort, raise, raise–“

KIRK [raising his hand to silence the lute]:  Elder Bob.  We are… very pleased… to be here but we are also tired and ready for… relaxation.  I would like… the rest of my crew… to see your planet and get… acquainted… with your people.  [KIRK glances to the left and right.]  Where are your people, by the way?

ELDER: In the Comfortorium, Captain.  Come meet them.

CHEKOV: Captain, the tricorder shows multiple lifeforms congregating 100 meters away.

KIRK [horny and impatient]: Fine, let’s go meet them.  And then I would like to start transporting our crew members to the planet surface… with your permission, Elder.

SPOCK [leaning toward KIRK]: As your First Officer, I advise caution, Captain.

ELDER: We have no objections, Captain.  Beam them all down, whenever you choose.

KIRK [reaching for communicator]: Kirk to Enterprise.  Initiate transport of all crew to the planet surface.  Get their asses down here.  Kirk out.

SPOCK: Captain…

KIRK [eyeing Spock]:  Yes, Mr. Spock?  You have some… logical… objection?

SPOCK: No, Captain.  But my study of this planet suggests that visitors are obligated to take part in a peculiar ritual of which we have little experience.  It may be risky.

KIRK: Let’s go party, Mr. Spock.  [KIRK lowers his voice.]  Spock, what is it with the lutes? Why do they all play lutes?  Every… where… we… go!

ELDER:  Right this way, Captain.  Welcome to our community.

_______________________________

[The seven-member landing party is led to an indoor atrium.]

KIRK:  What is this?  This isn’t a party.  This looks like… some kind of… funeral.  Why are all these people standing in line?

ELDER:  Oh, the latecomers always look unhappy.  Come — because you are special guests, I will take you to the front of the line.

KIRK [whispering to Spock as they walk past those in line]:  Spock, what’s going on here?

SPOCK: The people of this planet call this ritual comforting. Approximately 84% of them participate in the ritual.  It is practiced regularly.

KIRK:  What about the other 16%?  What do they do?

SPOCK: Those who do not participate are treated as outcasts, Captain.  They are never chosen as leaders.  Their motives and morals are suspect and they are considered threats.

KIRK: Threats!

ELDER [interrupting KIRK and SPOCK]: Here we are, Captain, at the Comfort Pedestal.  It is our privilege to have you join us.  Please, Captain, step up to the Pedestal.

[KIRK approaches the Pedestal and observes the man at the front of the line.  Kirk sees the man reach for a blue button on the Pedestal.  The man presses the button and looks down.  A bluish-purple light shines on the man for five seconds and then fades.  The man walks away from the Pedestal, smiling.]

KIRK [to ELDER]:  What… just happened… here?

ELDER:  That was The Comfort, Captain.  Come!  What good fortune!  You are next.

KIRK [turns to SPOCK]:  Spock!  Your analysis!

SPOCK: Ordinary electromagnetic radiation, Captain, wavelength about 420 nanometers.

KIRK [exasperated]: Plain English, Mr. Spock.

SPOCK: Purple-colored light, Jim.  Nothing more, nothing less.

KIRK [to ELDER]: Elder Jim!

ELDER: Not Jim, Bob.

KIRK:  Bob, Bob, yes.  What does the purple light do?  My First Officer says it is ordinary… [KIRK rubs his forehead]… electromatic… radar… friction.  Well, whatever Spock said.  But surely… you do not believe that this light does… anything… to help your people?

ELDER: On the contrary, Captain.  See for yourself.  Our people step up to the Pedestal, sad and overwhelmed by the events in their lives, but then they press the Button, receive the Comfort and walk away refreshed and ready to engage in the world many more days.  How would you argue with this?

KIRK:  We would… argue… that your so-called comfort is just a purple light.  Elder Jim, or Bob, or Jim Bob, you must have heard of the placebo effect.  It is ancient science.  Pressing a button and lighting a light is a placebo — it only does… what you believe… it does.

ELDER:  You underestimate us, Captain Kirk.  We know about placebos.  And we know the power of belief.  Our people don’t believe because we press the Button, Captain.  We press the Button because we believe.

SPOCK: Is there a difference, Elder?

ELDER: Press the Button, Mr. Spock, and see for yourself.  It is because we believe that we receive the blessing of Comfort that the Light conveys.

McCOY [stepping forward]: Cackleberry comfort if you ask me!  Anyone who is worth a damn deals with life as it is, with all its ups and downs, he doesn’t just press some blasted blue button!  Let me press the damn button and you can see for your own self!

[McCOY pushes SPOCK aside, strides to the Pedestal and slams his palm onto the Button.  He is bathed in a bluish-purple light that fades after several seconds.]

KIRK: McCoy!  Doctor McCoy!

[McCOY stares blankly at KIRK]

KIRK: Bo… Bones.

McCOY [weakly]: Jim.

KIRK: Yes, Bones.

McCOY:  I think you are a wonderful Captain, Jim.  Captain Jim.  Captain Jim’s fish sticks. Ahoy, space sailors!  Captain Jim has some delicious fish sticks for you.  Catch of the day.

KIRK [to his communicator]: Kirk to Enterprise.  Lock onto Doctor McCoy’s signal and beam him directly to Sick Bay.  Keep me posted on his condition.  Kirk out.

[McCOY dissolves into a sparkly cloud]

KIRK [regaining composure]: Elder Bob, your Button and your Comfort are dangerous.  Your people come here to feel better.  But they feel better only because you have convinced them that these… things… do something.  They fool themselves and you fool them too.

ELDER: Captain, no one is being fooled here.  As the Ancients said, “To those who press the Button, no explanation is necessary. To those who refrain, no explanation is possible.”

KIRK [as one person after another presses the Button and walks away]:  And what about Doctor McCoy?  How do you explain that?  Elder, we wish to retire to our quarters now.

ELDER [with pained expression of disapproval]: Very well, Captain.  [ELDER gestures to lute player.]  He will show you to your quarters.  [Lute player smiles to himself.]

_______________________________

KIRK [gesturing to lute player guarding the quarters]: Please… do… play!  Thank you. [Lute player strums loudly as Kirk turns away.]  Wonderful.  I love the lute.

KIRK [to landing crew as the lute masks his words]: Eighty-four percent of the inhabitants of this planet are… enslaved… in this… cult of comfort.  I want that Button broken and that Light shattered.  The people of this planet must be… free… to choose their own paths of personal renewal.  Now… the Prime Directive says I cannot do this because I would be… interfering… with the natural development of another civilization.  But what do you say, Mr. Spock?

SPOCK: I…

COLLINS:  Captain Kirk!

KIRK: Yes, Ensign Collins.

COLLINS:  Captain, if I may speak freely.  We have talked about this, Professor Dawkins and I.  We are willing to stay here on the planet and find an opportunity to destroy the Button and the Light after the Enterprise leaves the quadrant.  The Enterprise can return to the planet at a later time and beam us up to the ship undetected.  No one on the planet — or in Starfleet Command — would be aware of any violation of the Prime Directive.  But most importantly, the Button and the Light and the Comfort would be gone.

KIRK: Professor Dawkins.  I take it you are on board with this plan?

DAWKINS:  It was my idea, Captain.  A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence.  I do not believe in delusions.  They are not healthy.

COLLINS: Captain, for the plan to be successful, you must leave us with a phaser.

KIRK:  Understood.  [Gives his phaser to COLLINS]  And, Ensign…

COLLINS: Yes, Captain.

KIRK: While you’re at it — do something about that lute.

_______________________________

KIRK [voice-over]: Captain’s Log, Stardate 4313.2, Easter Day in the Old Federation.  Doctor McCoy has fully recovered from his latest indiscretion with Acamarian brandy.  For reasons unknown to the Enterprise officers, Ensign Collins and Professor Dawkins chose to abandon their posts and remain on the planet.  It is unlikely that the Enterprise will ever return to this sector.  We commend Collins and Dawkins for their service and wish them, and the rest of the planet, a very Happy Easter.

[The Enterprise turns and flies out of orbit.]

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